Dignity No Matter What


Back in 2010, I wrote a song called “Invisible”, which was my attempt to create an awareness of and empathy for, the rapidly growing homeless population throughout the nation, and in particular, throughout the city of Tampa. Fast forward to 2019, where we find homelessness an inescapable social malady that, no matter how hard we try, we can not ignore. Where once, the harsh reality was mostly contained within certain areas of downtown, now, it has spread to every major intersection, convenience store, interstate crossing, city park, and more. It hurts to see them…it hurts to ignore them…but it must hurt far worse to be them.

The artist, Renato Rampolla, whose photographs are featured in this video, has done an exceptional job of capturing the despair, the hopelessness, and the devastation that the homeless deal with every minute of every day in their lives on the streets. Ron’s 18 month journey into their dark world is a very interesting story, and his book, Dignity No Matter What, is a riveting look into their lives; complete with captions, in their own words. For more information on how to obtain a copy, visit his website at:

https://www.renatorampolla.com/FE1BB99D-A038-403B-B661-0E2BD4066652

All proceeds from the sale of the book go to a local, hands-on charitable organization called, Blanket Tampa Bay. You can also find out more about them through Ron’s website.

Ybor City’s In My Heart

Digital copies of the song, Ybor City, available at Bandcamp:

Ybor City is filled with a rich history of architectural, culinary, industrial, and cultural distinction, reflective of its multi-ethnic composition. The man singing its song, Tony Garcia, has been involved with this community his entire life. Many who have known him are unaware of the talent that he’s been blessed with. I have known him for nearly 40 years, and until a year or two ago, I had no idea that he was a gifted vocalist. After seeing him live for the first time at the third annual Flavor of West Tampa, we sat down and talked about our respective passions for music. I found out that he just began singing publicly about 5 years ago. I asked if he had any recordings of his work and was surprised to find out that he did not. I suggested that we get together and lay something down…something we could share online, and perhaps archive on one of the many music sites for independent artists. We started with the Bobby Caldwell’s hit, “What You Won’t Do For Love,” because it offered Tony a chance to showcase the warmth and range of his voice. While working on that cover, Tony suggested one of my songs, Ybor City, for the follow up project. Naturally, I was very excited about the prospect of having him interpret one of my works. We got together once again, and the results surpassed my expectations. Tony was able to breathe new life into my song, and after mixing and listening countless times, I am certain that it will be well received by local and national fans of this historic community. Do yourself a favor, though. Make sure that you listen through a decent set of speakers or headphones. It’s essential. It’s the only way you can get the full effect of Tony’s dynamic rendering. Now, sit back, and enjoy the soothing sounds of Tampa native, Tony Garcia, as he pours his heart and soul into “Ybor City”.

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The Magic of Music Meets the Classic Western

Part of growing up in Tampa, or anywhere else in America during the 60’s, involved being at the theater, a drive-in, or in front of a television set and watching a classic western. Rio Bravo has long been one of my favorites. It mixes action, drama, comedy, costume, and spectacular cinematography with a star studded cast to produce one of the most feel good movie experiences in film history. My favorite scene involves a lighthearted musical moment when legendary crooner, Dean Martin, and teen idol, Ricky Nelson, share the stage on a couple of standards. I have often posted the link to this scene on social media sites, but I have never explained why I enjoy it so much. I’m not sure that I can. It’s just that I get this overwhelming sense of heavenly peace when I hear and see the interaction of these actors playing off of each other. It’s absolutely timeless. So sit back, take five, and enjoy this clip, which also features Walter Brennan on harmonica, and the late, great John Wayne just sipping on a cup of coffee. Funny thing is, “Duke” (the star of the show) is the only one who doesn’t have a line in the scene. But believe me, the look on his face says it all.

Unthinkable Thoughts

My New Storefront

I have begun to post my work on Bandcamp, where songs can be purchased individually, or as part of an entire CD. At the moment, only my two latest projects have been posted, but as time progresses I will make most of my catalogue available. Please share my link with friends, family, and fans that you feel might be interested in my work.

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The Works of Vandercar

 

This is a video I put together using some pictures that 2 friends shot in the mid 2000’s when they visited Lewis Vandercar’s home in northern Hillsborough County. The soundtrack was composed using Sony Acid Loops. The following passage was taken from a blog entry I found online called Miami Memories.

Vandercar once said: “Many people think what I do is ridiculous, but not intelligent people. Most people are fearful and they don’t enjoy life because they’re afraid to take a change and do what they want. So intelligent people admire your courage.” It’s a shame Miami no longer attracts the Vandercars of this world.

Punto Guajiro Preserved: Memories of My Father

34 years ago, my father sent a cassette tape to his family in Cuba. The tape contained recordings of him and my mom greeting familiy members and sending them their love. I was also on it, singing one of the first songs I had ever written as I attempted to express my sentiments for the family I had never seen. Remarkably, the tape survived the test of time, and on a recent trip to Cuba, my cousin was able to obtain the cassette from my brother and return it to the United States. As an added bonus to this wonderful surprise, on the flip side of this cassette, there were several recordings of the punto guajiro jam sessions that my father would attend at that time. Two of the names I remember from this period…1979…were Medero and Trujillo. I’m not sure who it is on this particular clip about my dad, but I sure am glad to have been able to digitally preserve it. Here it is along with some photos of my dad and some present day video footage of my brother in Cuba.

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Remembering the New Wave Scene with Elio Lopez: Artist, Musician, and Tampa Native

Late+80's

I recently spoke to Elio Lopez, an accomplished visual artist whose work can be found in galleries and libraries, on sidewalks and walls, and in number of other highly visible locations throughout the Bay Area. He’s been a very busy man throughout his lifetime, in search of ways to express himself, yet he continues to find ways to give back to the community and to share his talents through various worthy causes. But aside from all his accomplishments as a painter and his humanitarian efforts, he has always been an exceptional musician and songwriter. That is the side of Elio that I’d like to address with this installment of I Remember Tampa.

I have known Elio all of my life. We both grew up in the West Tampa area, about seven blocks from each other. It was our mutual passion for music that ultimately brought us closer together. In the early 80’s, we spent a great deal of time playing, writing, and sharing ideas, but eventually, we went our separate ways. I continued to write and record, never very eager to perform, while Elio embraced the spotlight. He loved the interaction with the audience. He fed off of it. He would go on to become one of the major contributors to the New Wave movement in Tampa. He had the haircut, the skinny tie, the black pointed tip shoes, and the sport coat with the collar raised. But more important than The Look…he had the sound down to a science, and the moves to go along with that sound. He had become the prototypical front man that he had always envisioned himself to be. And he was damn good at it.

I asked him to describe the musical climate in Tampa at the time…the bands he was a part of, the clubs that catered to his music, and some of the other artists that were popular at the time. I wanted to share those memories for the sake of all who were a part of this vibrant period of Tampa’s music scene:

“Let’s see…my bands that were pretty popular were “The Squares,” and “Small Population,” and finally, ‘The Reflex.” Zenith Nader and Headlights were also the better known local groups. Zenith Nader eventually became part of the Small Population until Jim moved to Atlanta to audition for The Producers and Dennis got married and moved to S. Carolina. I opened shows for ‘Berlin’ and ‘Wall of Voodoo,” (“I’m on a Mexican Radio”). Then I travelled with ‘Thriller,’ the show band. New Wave venues were the Buffalo Roadhouse, Ms. Lucky Club, Janis Landing, USF, and Scoundrels, all of which I played at regularly. At least on this coast. I can’t remember too many details right now about the east coast clubs and such.”

Those of you who have read my past entries know that Elio’s paragraph recollecting some of the details of our cities past is what this blog is all about: remembering that which made growing up here in Tampa a unique experience. But it doesn’t stop with the memories of people or places or events. What got this whole story started, was a song I asked him to send me….a song that Elio wrote towards the tail end of those colorful years. I vividly remember when he first introduced it to me. I couldn’t really hear all he was hearing as he strummed it. But once he was able to lay all the tracks down and pull all the elements together, it was obvious that he had come up with a winner. The studio recording of “Boys on the Block” that I’m linking my readers to was done after the New Wave movement had come and gone in Tampa, but the song itself represents that time period well, and it remains a pleasant reminder of the quality of music that evolved from it. It’s as good, if not better, than many of the hits of that era. And as is the case with all great songs, it still sounds fresh today.

I asked Elio to share the story behind the recording, and I will close with the details he was able to provide…great memories of a vital period in Tampa’s history:

“In the summer of 1988 I went into Hayes studio and hired John Urigh to produce 3 songs for me. Mr. Urigh was a top producer at that time who had worked with Prince, Joe Walsh, and a couple of other big stars whom I can’t recall right now. He played some of his productions and I was impressed enough to hire him. I played him 5 songs that day in which he chose the main song I wanted to do, (Had to Give Her Up), and rejected the other four. His reasoning was that the songs were too diverse.

I brought him several more songs at the pre-production meeting. He chose “All Those Flashy Girls,” and sent me back for more. I came back twice more exhausting my cataloge and he rejected everything. His reasoning was that I was too diverse and the A&R people wouldn’t know what to do with my music as they saw things in terms of marketing and sales, not talent or skills.

When I came in for the first round of sessions, (‘Flashy Girls’) I brought in the remaining songs and this song was on it. It was just in demo form and I was doubly embarrassed to present it because of that. The second he heard it, he wanted to cut it! I argued against it over and over, but he swore it was a smash it. So he gave us a basic direction on how he wanted us to arrange the song. When we got to it, (it was the last one cut), neither myself nor Watson & Watson could hear the song as a record, especially because we were cutting demos for much better songs. John was recording Debbie Gibson, (remember her?), in the next studio and he would pop in to see how we were doing. He listened to what we had and nixed most of it and told us exactly what he wanted to hear on the rhythm tracks. I was tired and left.

When I came back in the next day, Watson & Watson were excited saying they’d solved the issue. They had removed most of the stuff we had done. All that remained was the bass and synth pad #2, (me), drums, (Mark), and keyboard pad #1, (David). They’d added some horns hits, (which are there), and that high pitched keyboard that you hear during the prechorus. We played it for John and he approved it. When it came time to layer the vocals and the guitars, John had me play, (for what seemed to be 100 takes), 2 acoustic guitars, then the electric you hear, and finally after he’d nixed a slide solo, the final solo. It was then that I could hear the song.

Cutting vocals for this simple tune was also a difficult chore. Not the main part. To my ear, my lead vocal is too flat and boring, but he wanted that. It was doing the bkgrnd vocals that was hard. He opted for 3 part harmony rather than two part and we tried many variations before we decided on the product you hear now. Well that’s the whole story, except that when I shopped the songs, I actually got a small publishing deal on this one. I guess I’m not the best judge of my own work.”

Quite a story…quite a character. Thank you, Elio, for your contributions to the arts. You are a true Tampa treasure.

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BOYS ON THE BLOCK

I’ll Be With You

In January 2013, I began experimenting with my grandson’s Ipad, and more specifically, with a popular Apple App called Garageband. The first thing that I produced with the help of Garageband was “I’ll Be With You”, a song which reflects on the struggles of the human condition and the way that I have chosen to deal with them. Once the song was completed, I accumulated a few images, put together a lyric video, and posted it on YouTube. As usual, I began to share the video’s link on a few other social networks, including Tumblr, Google +, and Twitter. And as usual, I got a hit here and a hit there, but nothing resembling the viral response I’d love to get for each song I release. But then again, my contention has always been that if one of my songs can move just one listener, I’ve done my job. That is why I do what I do. It’s not for monetary gain or notoriety…I’ve learned to live without either. I write, record, and produce because for whatever reason, which I do not question, I am compelled to do so. It is my calling, and at this stage of my life, my intention is simply to share what I’ve got to give with as many people as will listen. And once in a while, when a song affects someone, the ripple effect that is created leads to some very enlightening moments. This morning, I noticed that one listener had favorited the song on Twitter. His name is Eugene Chung. My curiosity to learn more about this one listener who responded to my post led me through a two hour crash course on solipsism, the singularity, Aaron Schwartz, life, death, compounding technological advancements, the film industry, SOPA/PIPA, and a host of fascinating details betwixt and between. Ultimately, the experience led me to this blog installment, which is dedicated to the serendipitous ripple effect that can sometimes be encountered in the slightest of crevasses on the wild, wild web.

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I’ll Be With You

Downtown Tampa …

ImageDowntown Tampa through the eyes of Cherie Diez…Click on this beautiful photo to see images of Tampa’s past and to hear the Tampa Natives Show theme song, I Remember Tampa.